Fangtastic Friday Interviews Susan Blexrud

Two weeks ago, the Asheville Citizen-Times profiled me in the paper’s Sunday “Living” section.  The reporter sent me a list of questions.  Following is the interview.

Occupation:  Romance Author


As many people do when they move to Asheville, I reinvented myself.  I had been in public relations for the past
30 years in Orlando; owning my own firm, working for the Economic Development
Commission, and as the director of communications for the City of Orlando.

Q: What was your growing-up like in Orlando?

A:  I grew up in 1950’s Orlando, when agriculture was still king and my biggest treat was
shopping downtown with my mother on Saturday.
The elevator at Ivey’s Department Store had an iron gate and a
white-gloved attendant.  I can still hear
her announce, “Mezzanine…men’s ties and women’s millinery.”  I’d clutch my mother’s hand and hold my
breath until we reached the fourth floor…TOYS.
Orlando was a great place to grow up in those days.  It’s a congested megalopolis now, but I still
harbor fond memories because it was home for most of my life.

Q: Were you a fiction writer even as a young girl, or did
that come later? If earlier, what kind of writing – journaling, short stories,
poetry, etc.? If later, what led you into writing fiction?

A:  I’ve always been a
writer and reader, and even as early as elementary school, I was attracted to
the quirky and theatrical.  I used to do
a fair impersonation of Ed Sullivan as a child.
My parents thought it was funny, at least.  So, if I had to memorize a poem for school,
I’d present it as Ed would.
Unfortunately (or fortunately), I was unable to parlay that talent into
a paying gig.

After spending 30 years writing feature articles, news
releases, and political speeches, I decided to try my hand at fiction writing.  (I suppose some people would say that
political speeches are fiction, but I’d beg to differ.)  What I immediately realized is that fiction
isn’t written in inverted pyramid.  I had
a lot to learn.  Luckily, Asheville is a
writer’s Mecca, and I took classes at AB-Tech (thank you, David Pereda and
Sallie Bissell), online through the Romance Writers of America, and
serendipitously found a great group of gals to form a critique group, the Pink
Fire Writers.  We meet weekly to read and
critique each other’s work.

Q: I’m going to take a leap and assume that you were a great
reader when you were young. If so, what were some favorite girlhood books? (My
hero was Trixie Belden!)

A:  Oh, my, where to
start?  I loved A.A. Milne and Robert
Louis Stevenson, and I devoured the Sue Barton student nurse series, and of
course, Nancy Drew.  The Dr. Doolittle
books were favorites, too.  I’m a sucker
for animals of all kinds.  My latest
story, Black Fang, which debuts August 18, highlights the plight of
white-nose syndrome in bats.

Q: Why did you major in journalism? Did you have a certain
goal (newspaper columnist, mag writer, TV news, travel writer, political
correspondent, etc.)?

A:  I had a romantic
notion of working for National Geographic (who doesn’t?), but essentially I
thought I’d be a reporter.  I worked for
the student newspaper in school.  (Those
were the days you cut and pasted layouts on blue-lined poster board.)

Q: What were some of the great challenges and rewards of
having such a high-profile job (in Orlando)? Did you mostly like it? Any
colorful stories there – political fiascos, etc., you had to manage?

A:  It was a crisis a
day, but I mostly loved it.  I was on
call 24/7, and I could easily fill a book with crisis stories.  I’ll share two, beginning with the minor
crisis.

A call from the city beat reporter generally meant that
whatever I was doing got flushed for the sake of his deadline.  Hey, that’s just how it is.  He’d heard through an inside source that
birds were dropping dead out of the skies around Lake Eola.  Turned out the city gardeners had not watered
in the fertilizer pellets, and the birds had chowed down.  The city lost a couple of prized black swans.  We fell on our swords (or in this case,
rakes), admitted our error, and sadly buried the birds.

Now, for the major crisis—post 9/11.  Huddled in the mayor’s office with the police
and fire chiefs, we planned evacuation routes and crafted the mayor’s message
to the public.  We were prepared for
natural disasters like hurricanes, but terrorists?  With Disney World in our backyard, we were a
target.  Our mayor, Glenda Hood, made
security a top priority, and during the year post 9/11, we hosted a statewide
security summit.

Q: When and why did your family decide to move to Asheville?
How much time do you spend in each city in a given year.

A:  I have always
wanted to live here, ever since I went to Ridgecrest with my Tri-Hi-Y group
from high school.  Some people love the
beach; I’m captivated by the mountains.
We’re here about 10 months of the year.

Q:  What’s the story
about becoming a romance author? How did that happen? Did you start later in
life after leaving Orlando? What was the pull to this genre of fiction?

A:  Here’s the
thing.  There’s nothing easy about
writing romance.  People who don’t know
better assume you follow a formula, and that it’s all about the sex.  Au contraire—it’s all about the love.  Creating believable, sympathetic characters
is a skill, and when you’re writing about creatures like vampires, the
challenge to make them believable gets a double whammy.  When I started writing romance, my multi-published
mentor (who would prefer to remain anonymous when quoted about this subject)
said, “You have to be better than romance to write romance.”  It’s not an easy genre, but I’m in love with
love, so it’s where I landed.

Q: Do you have a strict writing schedule, or do you work
whenever the mood strikes?

A:  I try to write in
the morning when I’m fresh, though some of my best ideas come in the middle of
the night.  I have to get up and jot them
down; otherwise, they’re gone.

Q: The phrase “romance author” surely brings a stereotypical
vision, but it’s clear from the verbal sound bites and reviews that your novels
are definitely of a different ilk (including the sly humor). How would you
describe them to someone who might assume you’re just another Harlequin Romance
queen?

A:  My stories focus
on the romantic relationship between the hero and heroine, but they’re not
formulaic in the sense that my characters don’t typically start out disliking
each other.  And yes, I love humor.  Mostly, I like a man who can laugh at
himself.  The road to my couple’s
happily-ever-after is bumpy, but their conflicts are more within themselves and
from what the world throws at them than from each other.  They have to figure themselves out before
they can fully commit.

Q: Quickly, any way to measure your success as a writer, as
in, XXXX number of copies sold, or “won xxx awards,” or “on the xxxx bestseller
list, etc.?

A:  I write because I
can’t not write.  I get a story brewing
in my head, and I have to put it down.
That’s why I do it.  There’s
little monetary reward, but I do get a major thrill from good reviews and from
the e-mails I receive from readers.

Q: Who typically asks you to make appearances? Book clubs?
Civic groups? What do you enjoy about doing those talks?

A:  I’ve spoken at
Malaprop’s (okay, BIG KUDOS for one of the best independent booksellers in the
nation, and yes, they carry my book), Buncombe County’s Skyland Library,
Carolina Day School, Barnes & Noble, Winter Park Public Library, book
clubs, and several times at the University of Central Florida.   Yes, I love talking to groups, and I’m in a
book club myself, so I love talking books.
With the students, I enjoy answering their questions about my writing
process and the evolving world of publishing.

Q: Anything else you’d like to say about your writing – that
it gives you joy, that it’s a fabulous creative outlet, etc., etc. And any
words of encouragement to other aspiring writers?

A:  Biggest advice to
aspiring writers—take classes to hone your craft and hang in there.  Rejection is a fact of life, and you have to
develop a thick skin.  There’s no cream
for that.  You just have to keep plugging
away.  Many excellent writers lose hope,
and many mediocre writers make it through sheer tenacity.

Q: Why are you involved with Youth OutRight?  Any other orgs or groups you
want to mention that you are helping or involved with? Or, in general, why you
want to make a contribution to your adopted hometown.

A:  I get chill bumps
talking about Youth OUTright.  It’s
exciting and challenging to be involved in a fledgling organization that holds
such promise.  For those of you who don’t
know, Youth OUTright provides weekly support meetings for GLBTQ youth.  We’ve been in existence for four years, and
we’ve accomplished so much.  We’re
strictly volunteer at this point (I’m vice chair of the board of directors),
but we hope to soon hire an executive director to take us to the next
level.  We serve an 18-county area in
Western North Carolina, and we need to make sure the youth who need our
services know about us and are able to come to our weekly meetings.  Transportation is an issue, and we’re working
on that.  Eventually, we’d like to have a
dedicated drop-in center so that youth who are being bullied or feel displaced
can have a safe haven.

Most of the people on the Youth OUTright board are gay.  I’m one of two “token” heterosexuals.  For me, it’s important to be involved in this
group because we’re all in this mishmash of humanity together, and the issues
of the gay community should be everyone’s issues.

In addition to my involvement in Youth OUTright, I support
the Asheville Humane Society, Brother Wolf, and Sarge’s Animal Rescue.  I also have a heart for child abuse in
Western North Carolina.  Through the
Christian Children’s Fund, I have a foster child in Honduras.  Receiving her letters (I just got one
yesterday) makes my heart soar.

Q: What’s up with quilting? When did that start? Do you sell
them, make them for friends/family? Do you have a quilting circle, or just take
a class, etc.?

A:  Ah, quilting.  It’s my hobby.  No, I don’t sell them.  I’m not that prolific and not that talented.

I love quilting because it’s a tradition in the
mountains.  In the 19th
Century, women cut the good sections out of old clothing and frayed bed linens
and fashioned the pieces together to make something beautiful.  I look at quilting as a metaphor for life.  We all have our attributes and our foibles.  The trick is to gather the good and assemble
it, discarding the throwaways.  Heaven
knows, I have regrets, but I try to piece together all the good in my
life.  When I make a quilt, I think about
choosing all the most vibrant fabrics and how they work in symmetry.  Together, they are supported and complete,
more than the sum of their parts.

Q: Looks like you’re really active physically –
walking/biking/yoga – want to throw in a quick paragraph about your heart event
and exercise?

A: I’m the energizer bunny.
I do some type of exercise every day.
I’m either walking the trails in our neighborhood, biking, or taking a
class at the Reuter YMCA.  I like Zumba,
Diva Dance, Yoga, Muscle Pump, you name it.
I had heart surgery in 2005.  It
was a tough year for me; heart surgery in April and pneumonia in October.  I emerged with a new commitment to reduce
stress in my life and get an annual flu shot (the pneumonia developed on the
heels of the flu).

Q: I simply must know more about John’s proposal on the
Orient Express….please?

A:  It was off the
charts.  Picture this:  It’s New Year’s Eve, and you’re barreling
through Europe on the Orient Express, somewhere between Paris and Vienna, when
your significant other pops the question.
The only damper on this perfect evening was the temperature.  It was January, and there was no heat on the
train.  We were expected to dress
formally for dinner, so there I was in a strapless gown…with blue lips and
chattering teeth.  Through my chattering,
I squeaked out a “YES, I’ll marry you!”

Q: Are you a cook? If so, some specialties?

A:  Egad, no.  I have little patience for cooking.  Why spend all that time creating something,
and then eat it.  Poof, it’s gone.  If a recipe has more than five ingredients, I
automatically deep six it.  Oh, and the
ingredients have to be readily available, like at Ingles.

Q: What do you most enjoy reading when you’re not writing?
Favorite writers?

A:  I typically have
two books going.  Right now, I’m reading
The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown and A Hint of Wicked by Jennifer
Haymore.  This past year, I read Major
Pettigrew’s Last Stand (absolutely loved it), Unfinished Desires (fabulous),
Serena (can’t say enough about how good this book is), Just Kids (felt like I
was there), The Help (worth all the hype), Revolution (a little YA for the
angst of it), My Name is Mary Sutter (fulfilling my Civil War lust), and
Sarah’s Key (heart wrenching), to name a few.

Q: What’s in your iPod or CD player?

A:  My music tastes
are as eclectic as my reading.  I
currently have Muse, Rascal Flatts, “Wicked,” Il Divo (recommended by the Y’s
Zumba instructor, Natalie), Linda Ronstadt, Josh Groban, James Taylor, Lady
Gaga (saw her in Orlando in April), “Les Miserables,” Air Supply (all about the
nostalgia), and Lady Antebellum.

Q: If you could have a long, lingering dinner with any five
people, living or dead, who would they be?

A: I LOVE that question!
Queen Elizabeth I, Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (I’m on a real
Civil War kick at the moment), Cleopatra, and Audrey Hepburn.  Do I only get five?

Q: A few words about your pets?

A:  How much can you
love a dog?  Certainly no one was more
enamored than I of a Chihuahua.  Our
daughter rescued her, and I have to say that for the first few months we had
her, I frequently popped heel of hand to head, i.e., we were now owned by Paris
Hilton’s breed.  Not an image I wanted to
perpetuate.  However, this dog is a
character, and she’s not typical of the breed.
True, she shakes when she’s scared, which is often, but she can also run
like the wind and she has a little purr that puts her in the cat/dog
category.  I’d have a houseful of them if
my husband would let me.  I recently fell
in love with a little guy at Sarge’s Animal Rescue in Waynesville, but John put
his foot down.  So, I paid Rocket Man’s
adoption fee, and I can only hope that his new owners love him as much as I
would have.  I also have a cockatiel
named Romeo.  He can cat whistle and say
“Pretty Boy.”  When we travel to Florida
at Christmas with dog and bird in tow (the bird in a large cage), and boxes
secured on the roof, we look like the Beverly Hillbillies.

Rocket Man

Q: You will have hopefully told me why you moved to Asheville
in an earlier Q, but if you didn’t say then, tell me what you love about living
here (besides it’s not as hot as in Florida)?

A:  I love everything
about this town.  Nobody cares about
bling here, like what car you drive or where you live.  Coming from a hotbed of consumerism
(Orlando), where Hummers were the car de jour and McMansions dotted the golf
courses, I appreciate an environment where everyone leaves their judgment jeans
in the dirty clothes bin.  Not that I
don’t still like Orlando.  It was home
for most of my life.  But Asheville just feels better.

Q: Anything people except those extremely closest to you
would find surprising to learn about you? (I once had a subject who was an
otherwise extremely conventional woman who confessed that she loves to dance in
her underwear! Another, a major outdoorswoman, said she’s deathly afraid of
spiders).

A:  I’m wondering what
my best friends, Jeanne and Joyce, would say.
Hmm.  Okay, here goes.  In spite of my advancing age, I still try to
be a sexy broad.  And I’m a birder.  You know, one of those folks who don binoculars
to peer at winged beauty.  I particularly
like hummingbirds and raptors.  Again, my
taste runs the gamut.

Q: Any guilty pleasures? (McDonald’s fries, The
Bachelorette, disco music, dark chocolate, Leave it to Beaver reruns, Doris Day
movies?

A:  Mad Men on AMC,
Dexter on Showtime, and pretty much anything and everything on Masterpiece
Theatre.  I can’t wait for the next
season of  Downton Abbey.  And if they ever come out with another series
as compelling as North and South, I’ll swoon.
I thought I was going to love the True Blood series on HBO because I
adore Charlaine Harris’s books, but the series trades the books’ humor for the
sake of sensationalism and gore.  I still
catch glimpses of it just for Alexander Skarsgard (husband rolls eyes), but I’m
not a big fan.

And Audrey Hepburn is my role model, so I love all her
stuff.

Q: If there’s anything about you or your life that I’m not
wise enough to ask you, PLEASE volunteer it! Maybe you once were a juggler for
kids’ birthday parties, or tended bar in a biker joint, or worked on a
political campaign in college, or were a runaway bride when you were 19.

All right, you nailed me, I tended bar in a biker
joint.  Just kidding, but I think that
would have been fun.

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Comments
3 Responses to “Fangtastic Friday Interviews Susan Blexrud”
  1. What a great interview! I especially liked your thoughts about romance being about love. So many non-romance readers miss the point entirely.

    Congrats, Susan!

    • Susan Blexrud says:

      Thanks so much, Maria. I felt a bit (well, a lot) cheesy putting my own interview up, but I had a hole in the schedule this week. Yes, for non-romance readers who think we romance junkies are all about the sex, they’re missing the boat.

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